India Calling, An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking is a recently released book by Anand Giridharadas (a columnist for the International Herald Tribune and New York Times online) which has been receiving overwhelming positive reviews from various media outlets (NY Times Article review here, NPR Interview here, an appearance on the Daily Show, which you can see here). I haven’t read the book, but it’s now on the top of my to read list. I have a strong interest in commentary about changes, progress, lack of progress, and life in India; I’ve documented my personal observations about changes in India here, so this will be right up my alley.
This past week, my friend Nipun Saxena (@nsax on Twitter), attended a lecture and book signing by Giridharadas in San Francisco.
Here are Nipun’s thoughtful notes about the book and Giriharadas’ lecture.
He is very authentic in narrating another’s perspectives (it’s a collection of ten true stories), maybe because he writes in a third person over the shoulder point of view. He has a good pulse on social nuances that are uniquely Indian which he refers to throughout. His choice of stories gets you access into the unguarded minds of Indians you otherwise wouldn’t hear from (from over-achievers in slums to Ambani).
He layers metaphors without artificially stretching them (again true stories) so the stories resonate: there’s a story of two brothers, who start out as a joint family and are very content. They share living space, finances, and household operations; “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” with ample unspoken love and caring a “lack of love” in which the kids thrive. However in time, one brother starts to strive for a more rewarding life, and moves his family upstairs. (however he does not build a new kitchen so that the joint nature of the family is not violated, and eyebrows are not raised). With time, the upstairs brother starts planning for things and achievements for himself and his family, whereas the downstairs brother remains traditionally fatalistic and stays physically and literally grounded. As the upstairs brother plans his time and sets and achieves goals, the upstairs becomes an image of a new India: new construction, new shiny gizmos, a daughter who’s time is scheduled with extracurricular activities and training, and social success.
In the discussion that followed, he identified the major shifts he sees that are occurring, and that which is staying the same. For example, there is
- a new value ascribed to time. It used to be based on an agrarian cycle; there was a time to be physically active and a time to be idle. Now there is a linear view of time; it should be used to enable change, to get from one place to another, to transform
- a new focus on training to better oneself and to compete, at the expense of any real ‘education’ or broadening of the mind
- an increasing sense of entitlement, of breaking traditional boundaries and asking why something is as it is, even at the poorest levels
- no improvement on establishing a set of values for which the country stands or ascribes (on what values with the country base trade-offs, for instance if squatters are displaced due to construction )
With that type of endorsement from a sophisticated and intelligent reader like Nipun, I’m very eager to read the book and will provide an update to this post with my observations.